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Be kind to Martin Ødegaard

Arsenal v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League Photo by Alastair Grant - Pool/Getty Images

Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to mourn the demise of Martin Ødegaard’s Real Madrid career, a tale of what could have been.

Well at least some of us are anyway.

For a portion of the ever important voices on Twitter, Martin Ødegaard lacked ambition or the “cojones” to fight for his spot at the club in the first place. Perhaps there is some truth to that, though personally I find such a view lacks a great deal of perspective. If such an opinion was isolated to social media, it wouldn’t be worth a look at but its not just Twitter. When the Norwegian departed for Arsenal in January, Jorge Valdano immediately questioned young Ødegaard’s drive.

“I am more concerned about his mentality,” Valdano told Onda Cero following Ødegaard’s initial departure to London, “It is not worthy of a Real Madrid player to leave your place, not have that patience. It’s not just any player ahead of him. I am surprised that he would leave the club and leave his spot open for others,” he concluded.

No Real Madrid fan is going to be happy about how Ødegaard’s career at the Bernabéu has panned out. He was supposed to be a future leader at the club and, though we might not want to admit it now, he was one of the team’s star pupils up until leaving Real Sociedad in 2019. No different than the likes of Dani Carvajal or Casemiro, Ødegaard was an oft cited example of what successful development of a high potential player at Real Madrid could look like. His loans weren’t perfect destinations, but Ødegaard consistently made the most out of the moves and, for the well informed, he always seemed to be progressing towards the ultimate goal of being a Real Madrid first teamer.

Ironically, its only since he became that first team player in 2019/20 that the perception has turned sour. From Martin’s perspective, he was very happy at Real Sociedad and was keen to see out the pre-arranged two year deal set out the previous summer. He was called back to the Spanish capital, a decision he had little say on, missed a lot of time through injury and came back to a setup that had little interest in integrating him into the team anymore. For a player of Ødegaard’s caliber, one of the best players in LaLiga last season, that must have been a very frustrating situation to return to. His loan to Arsenal that January was probably an expression of that frustration, an attempt to recapture what he had at Real Sociedad before Madrid butted in.

From Real Madrid’s perspective, the club took a risk on buying Odegaard in 2015 and have worked hard to protect and develop him into the player that blossomed in 2018/2019. They provided the chance that was long promised at the start of last season and it didn’t work out, mostly due to Ødegaard’s injury crisis. Sure, the Norwegian was an option at Christmas that Zidane didn’t use, but context is important. Madrid’s season and Zidane’s future was hanging by a thread, the Frenchman needed options he could trust to turn things around and he was somewhat vindicated in his decision making in how Real finished 2020/21. The injury crisis would have provided Ødegaard a chance to play, but he wasn’t interested in waiting.

This is, of course, is just a personal reading of a widely reported saga. No one outside of the pieces in this story are ever going have access to the full context. What we can take as fact now is that the battle lines for this transfer were drawn months ago. The starting six months of 2019/20 had a definitive say on Ødegaard’s Real Madrid career and both parties will carry grievances as how things have ended. Neither will be 100% going their separate ways.

Having joined the club at such a young age, Ødegaard is practically a cantera graduate and watching him leave stirs up familiar feelings. On one hand, your disappointed that a future couldn’t be worked out between the two parties, but, on the other you’re happy to see a young player go out and thrive elsewhere. Ødegaard should be one of those sort of graduates in spite of questions about his mentality or stomach for a challenge. Joining one of the biggest teams in Europe at 15, shielding your performance from brutal media scrutiny and building yourself from third level Spanish football to one of the league best’s creators two seasons ago is a challenge. Leaving Real Madrid early, but with relatively understandable grievances, isn’t a reflection of anything but Ødegaard’s impatience to make it at the top level, Madrid be damned.

Should it all pan out, one would expect both Martin and Madrid’s paths to cross once again.

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